State Ethics Commission Meeting Held
August 6, 2018
On August 1, the Alabama REALTORS® Public Policy Team attended the Alabama Ethics Commission meeting for decisions affecting real property and/or the Alabama REALTORS®. The Ethics Commission is the state body charged with enforcing various state laws including the Ethics Laws and Fair Campaign Practices Act. At the meeting, the Ethics Commission issued Advisory Opinions and heard appeals from political candidates and one PAC that were fined for violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.
The Alabama Ethics Commission was created in 1973 to oversee Alabama’s ethics laws, now including the Ethics Act and Fair Campaign Practices Act. The Commission consists of five commissioners, appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Day-to-day activities of the Commission are handled by the Executive Director and staff. The Commission’s mission is “to ensure that public officials are independent and impartial; that decisions and policies are made in the proper governmental channels; that public office is not used for private gain; and, most importantly, that there is public confidence in the integrity of government.”
The Ethics Commission released four advisory opinions.
- Advisory Opinion 2018-07 confirms that an independent contractor does not need to register as a lobbyist when seeking work from local governments. The Ethics Act contains an exception to the registration requirement known as the marketing services exception, which allows companies to market services to state governmental entities without registering as a lobbyist. The opinion further notes that the definition of lobbying under state law is limited to state government and does not apply to local governments.
- Advisory Opinion 2018-08 provides that off-duty law enforcement can provide security services within certain parameters and can use public property under his or her control if used pursuant to a lawful employment agreement regulated by his or her agency’s policy.
- Advisory Opinion 2018-09 analyzes whether a specific employee at the Alabama Department of Transportation can leave state employ and work for Volkert. The Opinion states the change in employment is allowed within specific parameters, including a two-year prohibition on lobbying the Alabama DOT.
- Advisory Opinion 2018-10 states the parameters by which a retiring member of the Alabama House of Representatives must abide as the new Chief of Staff for the Speaker of House of Representatives. Representative Mark Tuggle is not running for re-election in November and plans to start as Chief of Staff for the Speaker of the House in January. The Opinion states that Rep. Tuggle can do so without violating the Ethics Act, as long as he does not lobby on behalf of outside interests and does not use the opportunity to benefit himself, his family or any business with which he is associated.
The Ethics Commission also heard multiple appeals of fines levied by the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office for violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act. Those appealing primarily asked for leniency due to new rules. The Commission waived some fines while upholding others.
The Secretary of State’s Office has the statutory duty of overseeing the reporting of contributions and expenses by candidates for political office, as well as political action committees (PACs). The Secretary of State levies fines for violations, with fines ranging from under $100 to thousands of dollars. The Ethics Commission is the body tasked with hearing appeals of these fines.